Coal mines sue union for $2.4m

QUEENSLAND’S most powerful mining union is being sued by nine central Queensland coal mines for almost $2.4 million.

The Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s mining and energy division is facing allegations from BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance that one of its safety representatives abused his post, illegally forcing the mines to halt operations.

BMA claimed the stoppage on February 22, 2010, lasted between six and eight hours at its mines, costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages and coal sales.

For Moranbah’s Goonyella Riverside, BMA believes the work shutdown cost more than $144,000 in wages alone.

In documents submitted to the Federal Court in December, BMA alleged CFMEU Industry Safety and Health representative Tim Whyte unlawfully shut down the mines believing a new fatigue plan from BMA was unsafe for its workers.

According to its claim, mine executives and the Queensland Government’s Chief Inspector of Mines asked Mr Whyte to withdraw the orders, but BMA believes those were dismissed.

The documents indicate the chief inspector eventually cancelled the orders himself.

Because BMA’s case includes claims the union’s divisional president Stephen Smyth endorsed the shutdown, Mr Whyte and Mr Smyth are also subject to the case as individuals.

Safety representatives are endowed by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act with the power to immediately stop work for a “safety and health purpose”.

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